Archive | January, 2014

Anyone for eudaimonia?

17 Jan


The results of the  2012/13 ‘happiness’ survey, released last autumn by the Office for National Statistics, show a small improvement in our well-being ratings compared with the results for 2011/12 (see this blog, Sept 8th 2012).

Average anxiety levels dropped from 3.1 to 3 in 2012/13 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Average life satisfaction rose from 7.41 to 7.45, worthwhile feelings from 7.66 to 7.7, and ‘I felt happy yesterday’ from 7.28 to 7.29.  The ONS says in its report that it doesn’t  know why this small improvement has occurred, prompting ‘The Guardian’  to ask in one of its headlines, ‘Are Britons really more happy than in 2012?’ The paper doesn’t think that it’s true, and suggests that the statistics may be a bit dodgy (October 23rd 2013). I remain neutral.

The ONS report did tell me a bit more about the thinking behind the questions which are posed in the survey. ‘Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?’ reflects the evaluative approach – people are asked to think about how their lives are going overall. This corresponds, I think, with Daniel Kahneman’s  ‘life satisfaction’ strand, the response to our lives evoked by our ‘remembering’ selves. Kahneman’s ‘experiencing’ self is addressed in the questions, ‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?’ and ‘Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? This is what the ONS calls the ‘experience’ approach, which measures people’s positive and negative experiences over a short timeframe to capture their sense of well-being on a day-to-day basis.

 Finally the ‘eudemonic’ approach is addressed in ‘Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’  This is derived from the Greek word ‘eudaimonia’ (‘having a good spirit’), which is generally translated as ‘happiness’. For the ONS this measures people’s sense of meaning in their lives, their connections with family and friends, their sense of control over their own activities, and whether they feel part of something bigger than themselves. All of these factors would indeed have been seen by many ancient Greeks as essential contributors to their sense of ‘having good spirits’.

Happy New Year.